May 23, 2023

Leonardo Da Vinci (Part 2)


Da Vinci Part 2 Outline & Script

Run in with Michelangelo: One day Leonardo was walking with a friend through one of the central Piazzas of Florence, wearing one of his distinctive rose pink tunics. There was a small group discussing a passage from Dante, and they asked Leonardo his opinion of its meaning. At that moment, Michelangelo came by and Leonardo suggested that he might be able to explain it.Michelangelo took offense as if Leonardo were mocking him. No, explain it yourself. He shot back. You were the one who modeled a horse to be cast in bronze, was unable to do it, and was forced to give up the attempt in shame. He then turned and walked away. On another occasion. When Michelangelo encountered Leonardo, he again referred to the fiasco of this force horse monument saying, so those idiot Meese actually believed in youNo wonder he was jealous. He was so committed to his art, and here was a dilettante who was just as good as him. It is an interesting question.It gets back to the question of art and science. Introduce question of how art improves technology (and not just the inverse)This is when the run-in with Michelangelo happens, and when the competition with Michalengelo happens. (1504)Michelangelo probably had Asperger's. At least that’s what I think.Had a broken nose from when he insulted another artist. Slightly hunch-backed. DIrty, smelly. “My delight is in melancholy.”Intro musicLeaves Milan, stops in Venice (and gives them plans for making underwater diving suits to defend the city with) and goes around northern Italy for a while before ending up in Florence again.Catalogs what he takes with him. Here we can see that he really did wear flamboyant clothing. Pink stockings, rose tunic, purple hat. Da Vinci was like Caesar, Steve Jobs, Napoleon with hat, Hearst with his suits, etc.Florence this go round is very productiveList the artworks that he produces during this time (Mona Lisa & St. Anne + Lada & The Swan (now lost) + Madonna and the YarnwinderThe Virgin and Child with Saint AnneThis is what makes him a star Vasari: “Men and women, young and old, continued for two days to flock for a sight of it to the room where it was as if to a grand festival to gaze at the marvels of Leonardo.”Starts the Mona LisaCompetition with Michelangelo and The Battle of Anghiari starts in 1504 - very influential even though never finished. Da Vinci 51 and Michelangelo 28.Abandons in part because large murals and frescoes never worked well with his oil-based paintsYoung artists flocked to see the unfinished cartoon and what did exist of the paintingHe’s also restless because he’s starting to get serious about science and engineeringMilitary advisor to Cesare BorgiaCurve all your castle wallsBuilds a self-reinforcing bridgeMap of Imola“The sack of the town continues. Although it is now the 23rd hour, I am much troubled.” - MachiavelliArno River project for FlorenceFlorence attacks Pisa. Make sure to talk about Vespucci & Columbus. Tries to re-route the Arno river.He tries to drain the Pino marshes, which doesn’t happen either.“Innovation requires a reality distortion field… Sometimes fantasies are paths to reality.”So Florence, unwilling to go all-in on Da Vinci’s admittedly very bold plan. It probably could have worked but it’s difficult to come to that level of agreement in a merchant republic where there is constant jockeying for power.Milan the second go roundWell in 1508 he has the opportunity to escape that jockeying. The French loved him, including the governor of Milan. The French have a spirit of aristocratic largesseArt much more limited in this periodContinues to work on Mona Lisa and do some minor commissions. But more focused on science.His scientific contributionsMath & Geometry - collaboration with Pacioli and does illustrations (this was actually done in his first stint in MilanThe book focused on the golden ratio. The golden ratio occurs when you divide a line into two parts in such a way that the ratio between the whole length and the longer part is equal to the ratio between the longer part and the shorter part.For example, take a line that that's 100 inches long and divide it into two parts of 61.8 inches and 38.2 inches. That comes close to the golden ratio because 100 divided by 61.8. Is the same as 61.8 divided by 38.2. In both cases, it's approximately 1.618An irrational number - approximately 1.61803398Euclid discovered it in 300 BC and it has fascinated people ever sinceObsessed with math problems, puzzles, and riddles. We don’t know when he started the Mona Lisa, or when he completed it, because he didn’t note it down. But he did note when he was able to solve some of these math problems.Squaring the circleKenneth Clark “Of no interest to mathematicians and of even less interest to the art historian.”Citizens of Delos consult the Oracle of Delphi about how to end their plague. They must create an altar exactly twice the size of their existing one. So they try doubling each length and the plague gets worse. He solves it by analogy.Obsessed with squaring the circle. Compare it to Isaac Newton and his obsession with the end times.Walt Disney - sometimes his obsessions did lead him to scientifically and artistically interesting conclusions.And nowhere is that more clear than in anatomy and biology.Anatomy (including his brief collaboration with Marc Antonio Della Torre)Probably his greatest scientific contributionHis goal was nothing less than charting out and understanding every element of the human body.So these are the topics he lists to explore about the human body: what nerve is the cause of the eyes movement and makes the movement of one eye move the other.What nerve is the cause of closing the eyelid, of raising the eyebrows, of parting the lips with teeth clenched of bringing the lips to a point of laughing, of expressing wonder. Set yourself to describe the beginning of man when he's created in the womb, and why an infant of eight months does not live. What sneezing is, what yawning is.Epilepsy, spasm, paralysis, fatigue, hunger, sleep, thirst, sensuality What nerve causes the movement of the thigh. And from the knee to the foot and from the ankle to the toes. The list begins with inquiries such as how eyes move the lips, such as how eyes move and lips smile. Walter Isaacson “As far as it is now known. He became the first person in history to describe fully the human dental elements, including a depiction of the roots that is almost perfect. If there were not so much else to remember him for Leonardo could have been celebrated as a pioneer of dentistry.” Volume of accomplishments.You could say that he was studying this for the sake of his art, and on a certain level that might be true. Especially at the beginning. But how would studying epilepsy help him paint the human body? He was satisfying his curiosity.Important skull drawingsBody proportions and measurements“The space between the mouth and the face of the nose is one seventh of the face. Face from the mouth to the bottom of the chin is one fourth of the face. And equal to the width of the mouth. The space from the chin to the base of the nose is one-third of the face and equal to the length of the nose and to the forehead.”Dissected over 20 bodies in his life, including a 100-year old manMade hundreds of drawings and wrote at least 13,000 words of text diagramming the entire human bodyDiscovered that arteries get hard and brittle as people ageDiscovered that the heart and not the liver was the center of the blood system.And the most impressive thing he discovered was how the aortic valve worked, something that wouldn’t be rediscovered until modern times.Despite this, made very few actual contributions to the field. Basically, all of it had to be rediscovered. Because while he did share and teach and discuss, he didn’t publish.The one almost exception was with a partner named Marc Antonio Della TorreThis is really the perfect collaboration, but Marc Antonio dies of the plague in 1511.Tantalizing possibility. If he hadn’t died, we might know Da VInci as much for a scientist as for an artist. And their work together might have advanced the field of human biology by dozens or even hundreds of years.Example of how he uses art to enhance science. Stuff falls apart as you dig into it. So he uses sculpting and casting techniques to view the inside of an eye and to diagram the brain like never before.Think about how odd this is. Leonardo, in his mid-50s, at the height of his popularity as an artist, spending his nights at the hospital talking with patients and dissecting bodiesPhysics, biology, astronomy, etcWhy is the sky blue? Gets a reasonable approximation of the truth. Realizes the moon does not give off light, but reflects the sun. The sun does not move (does not elaborate) Makes himself goggles so he can dive into the po river.Throws grass into the river to be able to better observe the flow of water “From this experiment, you will be able to proceed to investigate many beautiful movements. Which result from one element penetrating into another.”Beauty as a motivator for science. “It’s what fueled his curiosity” - Isaacson.Pursue your passion is advice that is given too often and too trivially. It now means nothing. I know people who work as marketing managers at Salesforce who say it is their passion. No it’s not. That is not what passion looks like. It looks like obsession. It looks borderline unhealthy. It looks like Leonardo.And what drove Leonardo’s passion, what drove his obsession, was often beauty. And I think that is a good way to find your own passion as well. Ask yourself what you find beautiful and pursue that.RomeIn 1513, when Leonardo was 61, the French are kicked out of Milan, so Leonardo leaves.Moves to Rome briefly. To pursue a patron, a Medici, actually. At this point he’s in his 60s and he’s alienated from his patron because Raphael and Michelangelo are also there and they are prolific, whereas Leonardo, who is now old and less interested in art than ever, almost never finishes anything. And his patrons are Medicis, mercantile Florentines who expect output.The one work he does complete is St John the Baptist. Dark, ambiguous, androgynous, and borderline erotic. Like the Mona Lisa, it is extremely mysterious, perhaps even more so. A french cataloguer in 1625 wrote “Does not please, because it does not arouse feelings of devotion.”There was even a sketch version found in his workshop, probably done by his disciple and companion Salai, which features John with breasts and an erect phallus. So we know that the sexually charged nature of the St John painting was not accidental.I like it. Even as someone who is not morally ore religiously outraged at the painting, it makes me uncomfortable. There are so many emotional layers to it. There is so much to unpack. You really do feel like you’re having a connection with this painted figure, almost like he’s intruding on you. John is pushy. So even though it makes me uncomfortable, it’s one of my favorite Da Vinci paintings.Final move to France - Three years later in 1516 he moves to France.The King of France, his true patron. Francis I. Talked with Leonardo every day. No expectations, no pressure. He just loved to bask in his genius. He was a man of war, tall, broad shouldered, charismatic, and courageous. He was civilized and decent, but he didn’t fancy himself a scholar.Lived next door.he had a stroke anyway, as wasn’t really capable of painting masterpiecesCreates a city plan for the king, though it’s eventually abandonedMostly perfecting paintings that had been started years before, including the Mona Lisa, which he kept with him, slowly perfecting, until the end of his lifeMona Lisa we have today is not as good as it once was. The eyes had a watery sheen. The eyebrows were commended for being particularly beautiful. But go look at the eyebrows now. There are none. They faded because they were so delicately painted with such thin layers of paint to give them a realistic look. Lisa Del Giacondo. The wife of a merchant in Florence.The last thing he writes “I have to stop writing. The soup is getting cold.”Beautiful death on May 2nd, 1519 - at age 67in the arms of his kingConclusionsMethod for observationIn his notebook, he described his method almost like a trick for closely observing a senior object. Look carefully and separately at each detail. He compared it to looking at the page of a book, which is meaningless when taken in as a whole, and instead needs to be looked at word by word. Deep observation must be done in steps.This is a quote from Da Vinci. “If you wish to have a sound and knowledge of the form of objects, begin with the details of them and did not go on to the second step until you have the first well fixed in memory”Example: How do birds fly? First, define the motion of the wind, and then describe how the birds steer through it with only the simple balancing of the wings entail. do this after the description of their anatomy.So essentially he's sequencing it. One, describe the anatomy of a bird. Two, describe the motion of wind, and then three, how the two interact.And I think that’s a powerful tool. When you want to learn something new, first define the individual details that you need to learn first. And master one before moving on to the others. ANd then learn how they interact.Don’t get bogged down in what you should do. Relentlessly follow your curiosity.If this isn’t good for you and it stands in the way of finishing projects then find good partners.nd so what about finishing things? I don’t think he should have necessarily abandoned his curiosity/love/ policy of only doing what he loved and what intensely interested him. What he should have done was find more partners. More people that will help him finish.Reminds me of Walt Disney. What the heck is he doing messing around with these trains? And then that becomes Disneyland.Be an experimenter. Find things out for yourself.Da vInci wrote “Though I have no power to quote from authors as others have, I shall rely on a far more worthy thing: On experience. He who has access to the fountain does not go to the water jar.”Obviously based on this podcast I believe in learning from books, but you can’t rely on that too much. You have to experiment.Let yourself dream insane things. Create for yourself. A couple of weirdly specific observations:Limited diet. Vegetarian. I tried the Edison diet. Milk only. Mono-diets are great for a time because they facilitate focus.Distinctive dress. This is like Caesar with his togas, like Alexander with his distinctive shield, like Steve Jobs with his jeans and black mock neck, like Joan of Arc with her armor, like William Randollph Hearst with his suits, they all have a uniform. Some slightly distinctive way of dressing that sets them apart.And my final takeaway is about that question that I opened with: How does art spur science and technology?Art, or in other words the appreciation of the beautiful, is a great spur to scientific and technological achievement. “If there is no love, then what?” In a certain manner, love is what made Leonardo. He loved birds in the air, the curls of hair, the swirls and flows of water, he loved color, and nature, and his fellow man.

Thank you for listening to How to Take Over the World. Researched, written, and produced by me, Ben Wilson, with sound design by Ezra Bakker Trupiano.

Leonardo Da Vinci Part 2 Script

One day Leonardo was walking through one of the central Piazza's of Florence talking with some friends. He was extroverted, personable, and popular and so he always seemed to have a retinue of followers, associates, and friends following him around to discuss intellectual issues.

And at this particular time, they were discussing a passage from the great Italian poet and writer, Dante. Some of his friends had just asked Leonardo his opinion on the meaning of a particular passage from Dante. And at the exact moment that they asked him this question, Leonardo noticed a fellow artist walking by.

So Leonardo decided to bring this fellow artist into the conversation. He turned and called out and asked him what he thought of the passage.

But it went horribly wrong. The artist took offense. He thought Leonardo was mocking him. No, he shot back. Explain it yourself and say, aren't you the idiot who started that big statue in Milan but wasn’t able to finish and had to give up the attempt in shame.

And then this young artist stormed off.

It must've been a very awkward moment. I imagine Leonardo's friends looking at their shoes or staring off awkwardly, not knowing how to respond. And Leonardo shrugging and saying “Well, that’s Michelangelo for you.”

Michelangelo and Leonardo are a good comparison in opposites. Leonardo was the ultimate polymath. He liked to flit from topic to topic from subject to subject, from field to field. One day he was a painter. The next he was an architect. The next, he was a scientist.

Michelangelo was intensely focused on whatever he was doing and had no room in his mind for anything else. He was not interested in science or technology or invention. He just wanted to be the greatest artist in the world.

And whereas Leonardo was popular, collaborative, and handsome, Michelangelo was reclusive, secretive, abrasive, and ugly.

He was hunchbacked and disheveled, and usually smelled bad. This was because he didn’t have time to bathe, when he woke up he wanted to just focus on the state or painting he was working on and obsess over it until he passed out.

And it's amazing that using such different approaches, the two of them were able to become two of the greatest artists of their time, and perhaps of all time.

And from stories like this, you get the impression that Michelangelo was jealous of Leonardo. I mean after all he was sacrificing so much in order to be a great artist, he was sacrificing, food and sleep and friends. Whereas Leonardo seemed to sacrifice very little. He just followed his curiosity. He lived a great and happy life, surrounded by friends.

Michelangelo was a slave to his art. He was married to it. Whereas in his eyes, Leonardo, must have seemed like a dilettante. And yet this dilettante was every bit as good as him, how could he possibly be pulling it off?

And I think the answer comes back to this idea of combining art and science, art and technology.

Leonardo’s studies in these disparate fields came together to give him understandings and abilities that others simply didn’t have.

And if this frustrated Michelangelo, it must have also frustrated his peers in academia. How was it that this painter was a better scientist than them?

Last episode we talked a lot about how technology and science can make you a better artist, but today we’ll talk about the inverse, how being an artist can make you a better scientist, technologist, entrepreneur, or really assist you in any field.

So let's get into it. Let's hear about the rest of the life of Leonardo da Vinci. Welcome to how to take over the world.

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So when we left off last time, Leonardo had just left Milan. The French had just invaded which meant that his patron, the former duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza, was forced to flee. So without a patron, Leonardo leaves Milan. So he stops in Venice, where he advises the city, designs some under water scuba suits for them that were never used, goes around some other northern Italian cities, before ending up back in Florence.

On this journey he catalogs everything that he takes with him. And so we can see everything that he owned and we can see that he really did wear this flamboyant clothing that we read about. He had in his luggage, pink stockings, a rose tunic, a purple hat. So DaVinci really is going around dressing like Elton John.

And we see that he had a slightly distinctive way of dressing, just like a number of other greats. Steve Jobs had his mock neck, Caesar had his long togas with the fringe, Joan of Arc had her suit of armor, Napoleon had his hat, and Da Vinci had his colorful clothing.

Just like the other greats he felt the need to wear something slightly distinctive to mark himself out.

When he gets to Florence, this is one of the more productive periods in his life. So he produces a number of famous artworks.

His most famous artwork at the time was not the Mona Lisa or the Last Supper, it’s a painting called the Virgin and child with Saint Anne.

It’s Anne, who is the mother of Mary, and Mary, and baby Jesus. And Mary is sitting on the lap of her mother, and she’s twisting to hold the baby Jesus who is holding a lamb. It was unrivaled in its realism and in particular its depiction of motion.

A lot of paintings from the early renaissance the characters look quite stiff and if there is motion or movement it’s very obvious and unnatural. Well the twisting and reaching of Mary and Jesus is extremely realistic and natural.

And of course you get everything else you get with Da VInci, extremely subtle and realistic shading, unparalleled use of light and shadow, very interesting and well drawn faces and bodies.

And the result is not only beautiful, but it’s revolutionary.

And this is actually the painting that makes Da Vinci the most famous artist in the world.

So Vasari, his biographer from the 15 hundreds, writes “Men and women, young and old, continued for two days to flock for a sight of it to the room where it was as if to a grand festival to gaze at the marvels of Leonardo.”

So this is like a blockbuster movie of its time. People are lining up out the door just to catch a look.

This is also the time when he starts the Mona Lisa. He doesn’t finish it in Florence. He actually never finishes it. He would tinker and add and enhance the Mona Lisa right up to the end of his life. It was never on display during his lifetime.

But he starts it here in Florence.

The subject of the painting was named Lisa Del Gioconodo

She was the wife of a pretty prominent cloth merchant of Florence.

And there's a little mystery surrounding why exactly it was that. DaVinci. Um, agreed to. Draw this portrait of this particular woman, Lisa. Because at the same time, there was this woman in another city, in Padua, who had begged Leonardo for a portrait and he was actively declining to do it.

This woman was one of the more wealthy women in all of Italy, and she was a great patron of the arts, and she actually followed Da Vinci all the way to Florence and was talking to his friends and trying to get any angle in to get him to paint her portrait and he steadfastly refused.

So the question is, why would he refuse this much more prominent and wealthy woman, and yet paint the portrait of Lisa Del Giacondo.

There are a few reasons why he might have done it. One is that her family was friendly with Leonardo’s father, and they did business together. So it might have been a a personal favor. Additionally, Leonardo might have known her personally.

There is also one cryptic line in one letter so suggest that one of the Medicis might have intervened and personally requested that he take the commission. And if you’re living in Florence, you can’t really turn down the Medicis.

But I think the real reason he did it was that he was taken with her. Not romantically, but there was something about her face that he found captivating.

He never delivered the portrait, so clearly it was more about the art than it was about the commission to him. And he worked on it his entire life, so clearly he had some attachment to it.

Now one thing I do want to point out about the Mona Lisa is that what we have is only a shadow, only a pale remnant of what was originally done.

And it’s still a masterpiece, but Leonardo loved to use these thin layers of oil paints to create a three dimensional effect, and many of those layers have faded over time, leaving us without the original effect.

So for example, the biographer Vasari talks about how incredible and realistic the Mona Lisa’s eyebrows are. They are extremely detailed and realistic and beautiful. Well go look at the Mona Lisa, she doesn’t have any eyebrows. So this feature that he spent hour and hours painstakingly detailing each hair layer by layer and making the most realistic eyebrows ever done, and it’s lost to history.

So returning to our narrative, he completes the virgin and child with Saint Anne, he starts the Mona Lisa, he also starts a mural called the Battle of Anghiari

It was a mural on a wall of what was at the time known as the Palazzo Della Signoria which is now known as the Palazzo Vecchio. At the time, it was essentially Florence’s town hall, the seat of their government.

It was one of the most important buildings in Florence, and added greatly to their prestige, and so they wanted a big beautiful mural for it.

And so they hire Leonardo to paint one of the few big battles that Florence had ever won. They weren’t much of a military state, they were more known for their finances.

So they wanted to put up a big, cool looking mural. Uh, in it. So they hire DaVinci to do it.

So he starts to paint it. He does extensive studies of war and conflict, and of horses too to make sure that everything is very accurate.

And at the time he's getting started. The Florentines actually then go and for the opposite wall in this great hall they go and hire Michelangelo to paint the opposite wall with another battle.

So yes, you heard that right. Leonardo is going to be painting one wall with a battle scene, and Michelangelo is going to be painting a battle scene on the wall on the other side of the room. Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve got ourselves a good old fashioned showdown.

Cowboy music

The pressure must have been incredibly intense for both artists. The rivalry was heated and very public.Everyonewass referring to it as a competition. And I don’t think it was accidental. The masters of Florence who funded the affair were hoping that this competition would spur both men on to glorious new heights.

But unfortunately, it didn’t.

Neither of them finished their painting. In Leonardo’s case this was because he often didn’t finish commissioned works because he would get bored and lose interest. And because his painting style did not lend itself to large murals.

His layers and layers of thin oil paints that tended to fade over the years started to fade in a matter of days when they were done on walls rather than on canvas.

And for Michelangelo he didn’t finish, I think, because Leonardo’s mural was clearly so much better. Michelangelo was the world’s greatest sculptor, but he was not the greatest painter. And his painting would improve over the years before he did the Sistine chapel, but at this time he’s only 28 and not as great of a painter as he would eventually become.

Da Vinci publicly ridiculed his painting, which featured a number of nude men. He said the men’s bodies looked like sacks of walnuts. And he was right, compared to Da Vinci’s bodies they were overly muscled, unnatural, and inelegant.

Now I said that neither of them finished, and that’s true, but that didn’t stop the murals from becoming incredibly famous and influential. Artists flocked from all over Europe to see the parts that were finished and the cartoons, the initial drawings that established the vision of what would come.

I think one of the other reasons that Leonardo never finished the battle of Anghiari was that he was more interested in science and technology than ever before.

He was conducting experiments and research with more and more of his time. And actually at this time he has the opportunity to become an advisor to someone named Cesare Borgia.

Borgia was the illegitimate son of the pope at the time. And he is a conqueror and adventurer. He had managed to carve out a territory for himself in central Italy, and as he’s doing that, he comes up to the city of Florence, who I just mentioned are not great warriors.

And so he says, hey guys, I'm going to take your town unless you happen to want to give me a bunch of money. And they say, that sounds great to us. So they essentially bribe him away and as part of the package, as a token of goodwill, they send Borgia two of their great minds.

So they send him Leonardo DaVinci to be a military engineer and an artist. And they send him Niccolo Machiavelli.

Machiavelli is one of the great philosophers and political scientists of all time. He's best known for his book, The Prince.

And actually Machiavellia and DaVinci get to know each other quite well in Borgia’s service. In fact at one point they wintered together in this small walled town only a few block across in each direction.

And for months Niccolo Machiavelli, DaVinci, and Borgia, are stuck together in this little town, walking around, talking, planning, plotting. And it’s one of those moments where if I could choose to be a fly on the wall at any time period in history, their conversations are one of those things I would most like to hear.

Three of history’s greatest and most interesting geniuses all in the same room.

So in his service, DaVinci does a number of things.

He makes some suggestions that are practical, some that are not.

He tells him that he needs to curve all of his castle walls. Why? Because. Uh, if they're curved, then when a Canon is firing at the castle walls, the cannonballs are more likely to glance off and not do damage to the walls.

He also helps design a self-reinforcing bridge. So this is essentially a bridge that you can put up really quickly because it uses boards and poles to reinforce itself without needing any nails. No hammering.

His biggest innovation once again combines science and art. And it’s a map. It’s essentially the world’s first modern map of a town or city.

Da Vinci takes his odometer and very carefully measures out exactly the dimensions of the city and he draws an exact overhead map. It's extremely accurate and is the first map of its kind. Previously maps had been sort of representative, so they just kind of hand wave a lot of the smaller buildings and they show you where the cathedral is and the major roads, but it would not help you understand distances and exactly where everything is, which is what this map does.

And this is extremely useful for military planning. It might seem simple but this is a major innovation on the part of Leonardo.

Now, eventually Leonardo and Machiavelli leave the service of Borgia.

Part of the reason is that their term of service was coming to an end, but at the same time they weren’t dying to stay in his service. And that’s because Borgia was a brutal, conniving, ruthless man.

You know, if you’ve heard of Machiavelli, it might be because you have heard of the adjective associated with his name. Machiavelli means scheming, ruthless, and unscrupulous.

And that’s because his suggestions in his book were for leaders to be those things when taking and maintaining power.

Well Borgia is a little too Machiavellian, even for Machiavelli, the man himself.

So there is

There's one time in particular, where they take over a town, and the town surrenders. They offer to let Borgia come in unopposed. And he says that’s fine, bring your notable men to the town square at such and such a time and we’ll take over command of the city from them.

When the men show up, Borgia has them strangled to death and sets his men loose to pillage and loot the city.

And so Machiavelli writes in his personal diary. “The sack of the town continues, although it is now the 23rd hour. I am much troubled.” And so if you're doing things that trouble Niccolo, Machiavelli, like you are way over the line. Right?

And this ruthlessness would help lead to Borgia’s downfall in the long run, and in the short run, it may have hastened Leonardo and Machiavelli’s decisions to leave his service.

So whether just because their time of service ran out, or because they're troubled by this kind of behavior, after about a year, Machiavelli and DaVinci leave the service of Cesare Borgia and go back to Florence.

In Florence though, DaVinci continues to be a military and civil engineer, as well as an artist. He attempts two really ambitious waterworks project, one as a military venture to try to divert a river from a city, and another to drain some marshes around Florence.

They were both technically feasible, but too grand to actually work.

And this is considered a flaw of Da Vinci. He spends a lot of time working on inventions and ideas that, while interesting, would not be anywhere close to feasible in his lifetime. We’re talking helicopters, scuba gear, machine guns, airplanes, diverting entire rivers, things like that.

And yes, I agree, it's a flaw. Because he spends a lot of time on stuff that never happens. But it's also, I think, one of the things that makes him great. Walter Isaacson wrote about Da Vinci “innovation requires a reality distortion field. Sometimes fantasies are paths to reality.” And of course he is comparing him to Steve Jobs there and his famous reality distortion field.

But I think he’s right. Sometimes fantasies are just paths to fantasies. But sometimes they are paths to reality. People who try the impossible end up being wildly successful. Because sometimes they achieve the seemingly impossible. But other times they don’t, sometimes the impossible actually is impossible, but the point is you don’t know in advance which is going to be which. So you have to be willing to try the impossible.

Well, there was never going to be much appetite in Florence for these ambitious engineering projects. The Florentines were merchants, and they liked nice clean contracts. We pay you money, you deliver us a painting.

And so Leonardo started to look abroad again. Specifically, his eyes were now going back to Milan where the French were inviting him to return.

The French always loved Da Vinci. And of course they loved his painting but they were more open to all of his ideas. Whereas the Florentines wanted clean commissions, the French believed in aristocratic largesse.

And so the governor of Milan is willing to bring him back and give him essentially a blank check to work on whatever he wants to work on. And so Leonardo decides that that is a good deal and in 1508 he returns to Milan.

The art that he produces during this time of his life is much more limited because what he really wants to work on at this time is furthering his scientific work.

So this is a good time to take a step back and take a look at his scientific contributions.

He made some contributions in math. In geometry mainly and it’s done through collaboration with a guy named Pacioli. This actually starts in his first stint in Milan. So back in the late 14 hundreds, it's now 1508.

Pacioli did a book on something called the Golden Ratio, which is this particularly interesting ratio that is found in nature and mathematics. And he has Da Vinci do the illustrations.

So he illustrates all of these three dimensional polygons and shapes. Of course it’s beautifully done and only Da Vinci could have done it. Only he had both the artistic and mathematical skills to understand and produce these illustrations.

That's his biggest formal contribution. He was also just obsessed with math problems, puzzles and riddles. His diaries and filled with pages and pages of these little math riddles.

One of the most interesting to him was figuring out how to square a circle. So in other words, how to take a circle and find the measurements of a square with an equivalent area.

It’s pretty tough to do at a time when pi had not been discovered.

The biographer, Kenneth Clark writes. That, these attempts to solve this problem are “of no interest to mathematicians and of even less interest to art historians.”

And I get that perspective. Because you think man, how much better would it be if we had four or five more DaVinci paintings instead of these useless little squares and circles. But at the same time, You know, this is someone who was so curious and that's what made him such a great painter and such a great scientist and so great at so many things.

And so he had to follow that curiosity, wherever it led him. And sometimes it led him in very interesting and fruitful directions and other times it didn't.

It reminds me a little bit of Isaac Newton. Newton was obsessed with, the Bible and with figuring out when the end of the world was going to be, when the apocalypse would occur, based on numerology and reading tea leaves from the bible. And he was obsessed with alchemy.

People similarly think that's a waste of Isaac Newton, but similarly, he was just following his curiosity wherever it led him. And sometimes it led him in productive areas and other times not.

It also reminds me of Walt Disney and his toy trains. And that seemed like a totally crazy obsession when he was supposed to be leading a film studio, but it ended up leading to Disneyland. The point is, you can’t necessarily know in advance what is going to be productive and what isn’t so the best policy at least in the case of geniuses like Da Vinci, Newton, and Disney, is to follow your curiosity no matter what.

One of the areas that was more productive was anatomy and biology. This is probably where his greatest scientific contributions come from.

He made an attempt to chart out and understand the entire human body. He wanted to understand every element of it. So he makes a list of topics that he wants to explore about the human body in his journals. He writes:

What nerve is the cause of the eyes movement and makes the movement of one eye move the other?What nerve is the cause of closing the eyelid? Of raising the eyebrows? Of parting lips with teeth clenched? Of bringing the lips to a point of laughing or expressing wonder? Set yourself to describe the beginning of man when he's created in the womb. And why an infant of eight months does not live. What sneezing is, what yawning is, epilepsy, spasm, paralysis, fatigue, hunger, sleep, thirst, sensuality. What nerve causes the movement of the thigh. And from the knee to the foot and from the ankle to the toes.

And Da Vinci really went out and tried to figure out ALL OF THIS. He made hundreds of drawings of the human body and wrote more than 13,000 words about his findings.

He made discoveries that wouldn't be matched for hundreds of years. Walter Isaacson writes “As far as it is now known, he became the first person in history to describe fully the human dental elements, including a depiction of the roots that is almost perfect. If there were not so much else to remember him for, Leonardo could have been celebrated as a pioneer of dentistry.”

I mean, just think about that. He could have been famous as the father of dentistry if he hadn’t been such a great painter.

He also has these important skull drawings - the most accurate depictions of the skull made up to that point, - He discovers how the aorta works in the heart. He discovered that blood did not originate in the liver.

He also measures all these proportions in comparison to one another. So he writes the space between the mouth and the nose is one seventh of the face.

From the mouth to the bottom of the chin is one fourth of the face and equal to the width of the mouth. The space from the chin to the base of the nose is one third of the face and equal to the length of the nose into the forehead. And he doesn’t stop with the face he does the arms the legs the torso… everything.

Part of the way he knew this was he dissected over 20 bodies in his life, including a 100 year old man. And I'm in these dissections, he's able to use some of his art techniques. So this is again, a little bit of how art is able to influence science.

So for example he wants to be able to see the inside of a brain, but your brain is very wet, very liquid, and brains tend to fall apart when dissecting them. And he figured out how to do a casting of a human brain in order to diagram the inside of it. The way you might cast a statue. So he pours in hot wax and let’s it fill in all the chambers and folds to get a good diagram of what it looks like on the inside.

Now unfortunately, most of this knowledge did not make its way into the scientific community. It all has to be rediscovered later by others.

Because he didn't publish any of it. He was very collaborative. He's always talking with people. He's always sharing his findings. He wasn't secretive at all, but the fact that he didn’t publish means it doesn’t become a part of the scientific consensus and doesn’t get shared throughout the scientific community. He meant to publish, he was always half gathering things into manuscripts and then abandoning them.

And in anatomy, this is the biggest shame because he was so close. So he had a brief collaboration with this professor from the university of Padua, which is pretty close to Milan, with a professor named MarcAntonio Delatorre. And Delatorre is a great mind like Da Vinci, they really connected.

And so they were going to collaborate on a book and this is good because Latorre is better at finishing things and publishing than DaVinci is, and so they make a lot of progress. It's going great. And then a big plague sweeps through Italy and it kills him, kills De Latorre.

And this is pretty painful to read about because if he hadn’t died, their anatomy textbook probably would have revolutionized the science of the human body. They could have advanced understanding of the human body by decades, maybe even centuries.

But it was not to be. The man dies. And to me it just goes to show the power of having good collaborators. That is the main thing that Da Vinci was missing from his scientific endeavors.

Now we won’t get into all of his other scientific inquiries, although his mind was incredibly far reaching. He studied physics, astronomy, the anatomy of animals, ecosystems, and a lot of other things and made some pretty brilliant realizations.

But unfortunately because of his failure to publish none of this really becomes a part of his legacy. It’s just something that we get to see and marvel at as we look through his notebooks.

Just one other thing I’ll highlight is his experiments with water. He wanted to understand how it flowed and moved. And as part of that, he came up with an experiment to throw blades of grass into a river - so that by observing the grass he could see what water went where.

So for example he realizes that waves don’t actually move water. He sees the grass bob up and down and realizes that a wave is energy moving through water but the water actually just bobs up and down.

So in his journal he writes how to conduct this experiment with grass and water and he writes “from this experiment, you'll be able to proceed to investigate many beautiful movements, which result from one element penetrating into another.”

And I think that is a really important insight into the mind to DaVinci. He describes the movement of the water as beautiful. I think beauty was a huge motivator for him. For both his art and his science. You will be able to proceed to investigate many beautiful movements. Which result from one element penetrating into another. And I think fundamentally that is why he investigated all of this stuff. That's why his mind was so curious. Because he found all of these things in nature and biology and astronomy and mathematics and of course in art and science, he found them beautiful.

It reminds me of this new book called make something wonderful. Steve jobs in his own words. It's put out by the Steve jobs archive. If you actually just go to Steve jobs archive.com you can find it. I'm going to do an episode on it shortly.

And he is always talking about how beautiful and elegant his products are. He was always striving for aesthetic perfection.

He’s got a great quote, he says “One of the ways that I believe people express their appreciation to the rest of humanity is to make something wonderful and put it out there.”

And just think about it. Let’s say you are a professor of anatomy, and you’re studying the human body because that is your job and it’s how you make money. Let’s even take it a step further and say you think your work is crucially important, for the good of humanity.

And you’re competing against someone who is absolutely transfixed by the beauty and elegance of the human body. Who is going to stay at the dissecting table longer? Who is going to work harder? The person who is working hard because they think they should? Or the person who is transfixed by the beauty of what they are working on.

We hear a lot of advice these days about finding a career that you are passionate about, and I think that’s good advice. But I think passion is difficult to define and even more difficult to find.

I think beauty is another way of thinking about it that is potentially more helpful. Work on something that you find beautiful.

And whether you are a technologist like Steve Jobs or an artist or a scientist like Da Vinci, you’re going to be successful and you’re going to enjoy it.

So a lot of this scientific progress happens in his second stint in Milan. It was very fruitful for him scientifically, but it didn’t last forever.

So the first time in Milan he is serving the duke of Milan, this guy named Sforza. The second time he’s serving the French. But then in 1513, the French get kicked out out, and so once again, Leonardo gets out of dodge.

He moves to Rome briefly where he finds a patron. His patron is a Medici actually, who had moved from Florence to Rome.

Leonardo manages to thoroughly frustrate him by hardly ever finishing any of the commissions he is given and focusing on his scientific and mathematical studies instead. This is especially stark because the other star artists of his court, Raphael and Michelangelo, are in their prime and are able to churn out a lot of artwork.

One of the few works he actually does complete at this time is St. John the Baptist. And this is, I think, one of his most interesting pieces. I like it. I'm disturbed by it.

It's very dark. And John is drawn as very androgynous, and he’s drawn very sensually. I mean it’s honestly a pretty errotic painting. He’s giving this sort of come higher look at the viewer.

And so, when I look at it, I feel, almost violated, John sort of imposes himself upon you. He’s trying to seduce you. It’s a pretty amazing effect. But for that reason, it’s not popular, no one really knows what to do with it.

A French cataloger in 1625 is logging this painting, which is supposed to be a religious work of art. And he's like this one's no good. He writes “It does not please, because it does not arouse feelings of devotion.” Which I think is an understatement.

There's even a sketch version of it that was found in his workshop that was probably done by his disciple and companion Salai, which features John with full-on female breasts and an erect phallus. So Leonardo definitely knew what he was doing, if this is something that he was joking about in his workshop.

I think on a certain level this painting represents Leonardo dropping the curtain on his sexuality a little bit and feeling less inhibited.

He's not in Rome for that long. He’s there from 1513 to 1516 when he is invited by the king of France to move to France. And the king of France, his name is Francis the first. And he is Leonardo's true patron that he had been looking for his entire life. Francis is a warrior. He’s a man’s man. He is tall, broad shouldered, charismatic, and courageous.

He was also a civilized and decent man. And he didn't think of himself as a scholar, but he did love scientific and artistic achievement. And so he’s obsessed with Leonardo. He loves everything he does, he gives him complete freedom to work on whatever he wants to work on, he talks with him almost every single day, he’ll listen to him for hours on end.

He even installs him in a house right next door on his own estate.

Leonardo doesn’t start any new projects in France, and in fact he can’t. He has a stroke that leaves one of his hands paralyzed. But he lectures, he researches, he reads, and he tinkers. And he continues to polish and put some finishing touches on the Mona Lisa and a couple other pieces that he carried with him.

Finally at the end of his life, he finds his ideal living arrangement. Going and doing as he pleases, constantly well supplied and well funded by his patron with no strings attached and no demands.

His health is steadily deteriorating and on May 2nd, 1519, he dies in the arms of King Francis, who loved him so much that he wanted to be with him even until the very end.

So let's talk about some takeaways.

The first is DaVinci's method for observation. It’s how he learns anything.

This is what he wrote. “If you wish to have a sound knowledge of the form of objects. Begin with the details of them. And do not go on to the second step until you have the first one. Well fixed in memory.”

Okay. It seems pretty clear. Go detail to detail and then, um, don't move on from one until you can recall it from memory - you really have it figured out, then go onto the next detail.

So there's an example of this. He wants to figure out how birds fly. This is one of his scientific inquiries. It probably had implications for his paintings, as well as some of the pageantry that he was doing and potentially for his engineering as he was trying to create a flying machine at the time.

So he breaks down how he’s going to do this. He writes “First define the motion of the wind and then describe how the bird steer through it with only the simple balancing of the wings. With only the simple balancing of the wings. Do this after the description of their anatomy.”

So he writes it a little out of sequence: First, describe the anatomy of a bird. Second, describe the motion of the wind. So how does wind move? What does that look like? And then third, how do the two interact? How does the anatomy of a bird interact with the motion of the wind in order to create flight.

And using this process he comes up with the most accurate description of the physics of the flight of birds ever discovered.

So this is a pretty simple method, but I think it’s powerful. List out everything you need to understand first, and then go through step by step, only moving on once you have truly mastered a subject.

Another big lesson for me is don't get bogged down in what you should do. Relentlessly follow your curiosity. And obviously that has some tradeoffs, Da Vinci left a lot of things unfinished. But that's what made him Da Vinci. I think the best approach for him would have been to find partners who could help him gather, organize, and publish his thoughts. But the thing that made him so special was that he was SO curious and he allowed himself to pursue that curiosity relentlessly. Focusing too much on what you “should” do rather than what interests you I think is a recipe for unhappiness and wasted potential.

Following your curiosity is worth it.

My next takeaway is be an experimenter. Obviously, I believe in book learning, that’s kind of the point of this podcast.

Early in his life, DaVinci looked down on book learning. He as very skeptical of it. He wrote:

“Though, I have no power to quote from authors as others have. I shall rely on a far more worthy thing. On experience. He who has access to the fountain does not go to the water jar.”

Now was time went on, he softened to the idea of book learning. And he did quite a bit of reading. But I guess that's the point. He started with experience and practice and only the moved on to book learning.

Let’s take an example. Let’s say you are someone who has never played basketball before. Never. And you start studying Michael Jordan. Read every book. Watched every interview. Watched all his game tape, broke down and learned every move. Do you think you would improve?

Of course not.

But let’s say you’re Kobe Bryant and you’re playing basketball every day, and you being studying everything about Michael Jordan. Reading the books, watching the game tape. Would he improve? We know the answer to that question because that’s exactly what he did.

So you have to start with experience, and THEN move on to book learning.

And whatever you do learn about in books or podcasts you should immediately try to put it into practice or you’re just wasting time.

And then my final takeaway is about that question that I opened with? How does art spur science and technology?

And to me it goes back to what I mentioned, that beauty is what motivated Leonardo. His art helped him to see and recognize beauty. And beauty is what motivated him to explore these topics of science and technology.

He marveled at the human body, at rivers, and trees, and birds, and flight, and cities, and geometric shapes. I think that’s the reason he was so good at geometry and so bad at algebra. Because he couldn’t see any beauty in an equation but he could in circles and squares.

Because he saw that beauty, he really LOVED what he was working on. And that’s what made him so great, that love for humanity, that love for art, that love for the natural world.

I want to bring up a quote that I brought up in episode one. He was writing it at the time when he was in some legal trouble, and it might seem trivial, but I think it really sums up who Leonardo was. He wrote:

“If there is no love, then what?”

Thank you for listening to how to take over the world. It was written, researched, and produced by me, Ben Wilson with sound designed by Ezra Bakker Tribiano. Until next time. Thanks for listening.

About Episode

The second half of the life of Leonardo Da Vinci - artist, inventor, scientist, writer, playwright, and genius.

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